Castle Blacklands

San Francisco, CA-based aural wizards Castle have created a curious musical alchemy with their sound, combining the thick, emotionally resonant riffing of doom metal with the driven, energetic songwriting of thrash and the mysterious atmospheres of occult rock. While their debut full-length, In Witch Order, brilliantly introduced their unique musical concoction to the heavy metal landscape in 2011, 2012's follow-up, Blacklands, is already a considerable stride forward. Now, guitarist Mat Davis and bassist Elizabeth Blackwell share vocal duties, playing off each other extremely well, the weight and rumbling roar of his voice complementing and lifting the sinuous, often sinister sweetness of hers. The album features a range of styles and songwriting techniques, from the straightforward, rocking doom of "Alcatraz" and the urgent punchiness of "Ever Hunter" to the avant-garde reinterpretation of Viking metal that is "Storm Below the Mountain" and the barely held together, near-sloppiness of "Curses of the Priests." What takes Blacklands from curious record to great is how balanced it is ― the stranger tracks are anchored by irresistible hooks, while the easier songs are imbued with strange, complex atmospheres. If this is what Castle are capable of on their sophomore effort, released only a year after their debut, then these doom haulers have a very bright future indeed. (Prosthetic)